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Tuesday, 8 April 2014

'Basically, Johnny Moped' (2013) // Captain Sensible and friends see the spirit of 70s punk rock reborn at the re-opening of the David Lean Cinema, with a film about legendary Croydon band - Johnny Moped! As much a love story between frontman Johnny himself and the equally free spirited Brenda as it is a rock doc, it's time to celebrate Croydon's very own 'Sid and Nancy' . .


Review by Tess Waddington

Punk is an attitude; it's about the DIY power of people - about not worrying whether you are 'able or allowed'. If you're willing, and you have the mind to - just do it.
And with that mantra in mind, it's entirely fitting that Croydon's David Lean Cinema reopened with the showing of 'Basically, Johnny Moped', a documentary about the 70s Croydon punk band - Johnny Moped (with a charismatic, errant lead singer by the same name).
When Croydon Council turned down the lights, possibly forever, and closed the David Lean Cinema's doors nearly three years ago, the 'Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign' rose up with a defiant sneer at council foolhardiness. This group of committed and passionate film fanatics were hell-bent on keeping the spirit of the historic cinema alive, initially through do-it-yourself film screenings - in a local pub, just around the corner. The cinema's eventual reopening on the 27th of March, 2014 is testament to the power of people over bureaucracy and a taste of the kind of defiance that punk instilled in at least some of us (former Moped's bass player Adrian Winchester is the Save the David Lean Cinema's campaign chairman).

That spirit of punk was certainly alive and seething right through the screening of 'Basically, Johnny Moped'. The film was made and directed (on fervour and a shoestring) by Fred Burns, son of that man from The Damned - Captain Sensible (also an ex-member of the Mopeds).

The Captain himself strode in earlier in the evening to attend the event, as did band members Dave Berk, Slimy Toad and Xerxes. It was touch and go whether frontman Johnny would turn up (after all, according to the film he tended to have to be kidnapped and transported in a car boot to recording sessions) but turn up he did; in his leather jacket and that tattoo (of which we would hear more about later).
The years perhaps haven't been so kind to Johnny as they have other survivors of the punk era, but he still has an undeniable presence - and a Mexican wave of whispers rose through the David Lean bar as soon as he walked through the door (mainly because he is so notorious for not turning up at all - tonight we get lucky). After the Captain's cutting of the cinema's ceremonial ribbon, the David Lean cinema was declared open for action.


From rare film footage and photographs of the band's early days practising in back gardens, to playing their first gigs, getting a recording contract and appearing at such renowned London venues as The Roxy - all the parts of this punk boy's life were jigsawed together to tell the true story of Johnny Moped.

Interviews with band members including the twice kicked-out Chrissie Hynde gradually unravelled a touching, inspiring and often hilarious tale of a bunch of Croydon boys who couldn't play their instruments for toffee but wanted to make music for the fun of it - and the love of it. As one clip revealed, there was a rivalry even in those days - another Croydon band turned up to a Mopeds gig and nearly pissed themselves laughing at the amateurism of the band. To quote a defiant Johnny at the film's Q&A - "Where are they now!"

'Basically, Johnny Moped' is a film on many levels. A documentary about a punk band directed by the son of a punk rocker. But as a kid from Leeds who knew nothing of the Croydon Mopeds (I came to The Damned via Phantasmagoria and worked my way back to their earlier punk sounds) the film's unassuming style neatly introduced the band to us and towards an impressive family tree of past and present members - and to how their influence branched wide to other bands (the film includes interviews with famous fans including Shane MacGowan of The Pogues).

It's also a story of the changing face of what some saw as a 'boring' Croydon (to quote an observer from the film) and why its grey concrete building blocks have proved fertile ground for musicians. The film is studded with tracks from 'Cycledelic' (the name of the band's formative first album) including such legendary recordings as: No One, Incendiary Device, Darling and Let’s Have Another Baby.

Just as importantly, 'Basically, Johnny Moped' celebrates the continuing comradeship between this ragtag band of punk rocker school friends: of the time the Captain (by now a member of The Damned) turned up at a recording studio in a show of support for Johnny (who was in equal measure a reluctant yet confident frontman) or the memory of a girlfriend swiftly paying for Johnny to have a tattoo redrawn so he didn't get his arm hacked off by a Hell's Angel. And then there was the time they all bundled into a van to go impromptu gigging on Warlingham Green, then Wapses Lodge Roundabout and finally the Fairfield Halls car park to cheer up Slimy Toad on his birthday (he'd had to sell his guitar to pay the rent; luckily someone lent him another one). The film tells many similar tales of uproarious antics and touching sensitivities.

Less Johnny Rotten, all Johnny Moped doing rebellion his way, this film, at its quieter core, is a love story between a punk frontman and his "older woman" (and love of his life) - Brenda. And while it's a romance hindered a little by the animosity between Johnny and his mother-in-law who stamped her authority on the relationship and tried to persuade him to stay at home (perhaps try and de-punk the man!) it's one that survived regardless, and against all odds. They met working in a kitchen canteen, and it was Brenda who was urged by friends to ask the guy who fancies you out. They drifted apart and later patched things up - and today they remain devoted to each other, perhaps more than ever.

The endurance of the band itself is matched in equal measure by this enduring love affair between Johnny and Brenda - it's probably quite fitting that the film's closing scenes feel almost like the audience is gate-crashing a private party as we witness a touching moment between the two (Brenda now revealed to need round-the-clock care from her husband) as they sing, a cappella style - a Moped's song.

So thanks to director Fred Burns for bringing the 70s punk era back to life for fans of the band, of the punk era or for those merely curious to what all the fuss was about - and of course to the Moped members past and present for keeping those punk fires still burning.

And they are still burning . .

On the way out of the David Lean Cinema (with the Mopeds urging everyone to join them at a local pub for a drink), a beautifully glamorous woman who had arrived earlier with the band, heads towards the ladies' toilets but - upon seeing the long queue, turns and states defiantly: "I'm going to the Men's"! Too right - rules are for fools. The signs on the doors might say Men and Women but it doesn't mean we have to walk through the right one - does it? And tonight, even if only in small snippets of rebellion, punk, if not always well - is well and truly alive. You only have to look towards the good folk at the Save The David Lean Cinema Campaign to know why.


Words: Tess Waddington

"Don't listen to anyone who tells you that you can't do this or that. That's nonsense."~ Douglas Bader


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